Belmont Stakes: the takeaway as Essential Quality wins an epic on a great day for Godolphin

By Nicholas Godfrey

So you know Godolphin completed an unprecedented transatlantic Classic double as Essential Quality captured the 153rd Belmont Stakes, adding the final leg of the US Triple Crown to Adayar’s Derby triumph at Epsom. Here are the details plus some other stuff you might be interested in – quotes, videos and tweets.

What’s going on?

Result

Belmont Park (June 5): Belmont Stakes G1 $1.5m, 1m4f, dirt, 3yo
1 Essential Quality 13-10f
Sat off strong pace before moving up on far turn; got better of terrific stretch duel
2 Hot Rod Charlie 4.8-1
Determined effort from front-runner pressed into incredibly fast early splits; refused to buckle
3 Rombauer 5.7-1
Preakness winner under pressure mid-race before minor progress; distant third
8 ran. Margins: 1¼l, 11¼l, ¾l
Time: 2m27.11s (fast)

LATEST: Belmont hero Essential Quality to target Travers on back of year’s best Beyer speed figure

About the winner

Pedigree: 3 rg c Tapit – Delightful Quality (Elusive Quality)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Luis Saez
Owner: Godolphin Racing LLC
Breeder: Godolphin

Background: sixth win in seven career starts for homebred son of Tapit whose sole defeat came on previous start in Kentucky Derby when he was fourth; third G1 success after Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile during last year’s champion two-year-old campaign.

Horse Racing Essential Quality Belmont Stakes Luis Saez
Essential Quality (Luis Saez) wins the G1 Belmont Stakes from Hot Rod Charlie. Photo: RMP

On the record

Godolphin, who completed a transatlantic Classic double after Adayar’s Derby success at Epsom, have never before won any of the three legs of the US Triple Crown. They also had a one-two in the G1 Just A Game on the Belmont undercard with Althiqa and Summer Romance.
Both trainer Brad Cox and jockey Luis Saez were also winning their first Triple Crown races. However, reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Cox will be credited with winning this year’s Kentucky Derby with Mandaloun if Medina Spirit’s DQ is ratified.
Essential Quality is a fourth Belmont winner for his sire, three-time US champion Tapit, after Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017).
Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie also fought out the finish to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland where they were separated by three-quarters of a length.

Snap reaction

Brad Cox: “That was a long way around there, a mile and a half.”
Luis Saez: “I was so confident in the Kentucky Derby we were going to win that race.”

Horse Racing Essential Quality Belmont Stakes Luis Saez
Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie in a duel for the Belmont. Photo: Dom Napolitano

Any other business

Kentucky Derby compensation

The sole defeat in Essential Quality’s seven-race career came when he was a luckless beaten favourite in the Kentucky Derby. After a troubled start, he raced wide throughout, travelling much further than the principals as he finished fourth just over a length behind the winner Medina Spirit.

‘Stuff happens’ – Luis Saez

Luis Saez’s best previous effort in a Triple Crown race was Bravazo’s second place in the 2018 Preakness. However, he crossed the wire first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Maximum Security but was disqualified and placed 17th. “The Derby was a little [tough], but you know stuff happens so I’m OK,” he said.

Brutal pace scenario

With opening sectionals of 22.78s and 46.49s, the Belmont Stakes was run at a fierce early pace for the 1m4f distance as Hot Rod Charlie was pressed by Rock Your World and Japan’s France Go Da Ina. That pair faded to sixth and last in the eight-runner field.

Just A Game: More G1 success for Appleby with Althiqa

After his Derby-winning exploits at Epsom with Adayar, Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby completed a memorable day’s work when Althiqa (Mike Smith) beat stablemate Summer Romance for a one-two in the $500,000 Just A Game Stakes, one of seven G1s on the Belmont undercard. Both fillies may stay in the US to run in the G1 Diana at Saratoga on July 17.

Met MIle: Six-timer for Silver State

Oaklawn Handicap winner Silver State (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana) completed a six-timer with a powerful run up the rail on his G1 debut in the $1m Met Mile. The four-year-old scored by a length from strong-finishing By My Standards after front-running Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go (gave winner 6lb) faded to fourth in the one-turn mile.

Manhattan: Six out of eight for Chad Brown

A sixth winner in eight years of this $750,000 event for trainer Chad Brown, who saddled a one-two as Domestic Spending (Flavien Prat) caught front-running longshot Tribhuvan. Sent off 6-4 favourite, the winner was completing a G1 hat-trick (one dead-heat); the gelding has won six of his seven career starts.

Ogden Phipps: Letruska makes all

Former Mexican champion Letruska (Fausto Gutierrez/Jose Ortiz) followed up her Apple Blossom victory with a second US G1 win with a dominant all-the-way victory in the Ogden Phipps. Last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil was third after trying to match strides with the winner in the early stages of a race where the 2020 Preakness heroine Swiss Skydiver was a non-runner.

Shall we talk about it?

Brad Cox (Essential Quality’s trainer): “That was a long way around there, a mile and a half. Obviously Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race, I thought with the hot pace we were in a good spot where they would come back. He ran a tremendous race on the lead and we did a fantastic job of getting in position turning for home – he was really able to show his stamina late. It looked like the horse on the inside still had running left, so I knew it was going to be a battle down the lane.
“I want to thank Sheikh Mohammed, he’s been supporting us the last two years and this is a tremendous organisation, world class. We wouldn’t be here without this horse and his support, so I really thank him.”

Luis Saez (Essential Quality’s jockey): “I had a feeling about Essential Quality the first time I rode him. I have been riding a lot of good horses but when he won the Breeders’ Futurity pretty easily, I was excited. I know that he has a lot of talent and he was my first Breeders’ Cup winner, so he is more special than anything.
“I was so confident in the Kentucky Derby we were going to win that race, we had a little unlucky start and got bumped breaking. So today the main thing was try to break clean and the rest I know he’s going to do.
“We knew there was going to be a lot of speed, that’s what I was expecting. I knew he was going to run his race at the top of the stretch. On the backside, he picked up the bridle and was moving pretty well, so I’m not going to try to take him back and go inside when he was running pretty well.”

Horse Racing Essential Quality Belmont Stakes Luis Saez
Luis Saez and Essential Quality after their Belmont Stakes win. Photo: Hugh Ducey

Jimmy Bell (Godolphin USA president): “We were so fortunate to have another opportunity [after the Derby]. He has never run a bad race in his life and I think he showed today he met the test of a champion. To do what he did as a two-year-old and come through these races as a three-year-old with the mile-and-a-half Classic, it’s a great tribute to him.”

Doug O’Neill (Hot Rod Charlie’s trainer): “Our horse told us today that he’s a gamer. He got pushed. He did all the dirty work. Essential Quality ran a huge race and I think Charlie showed he was trying every step of the way from gate-to-wire. He just couldn’t hold off a champ.”

Flavien Prat (Hot Rod Charlie’s jockey): “We had a good race. He was traveling well on the lead and he was really game today. It was a great effort. We had a lot of pressure, but I don’t think it would have mattered today. I’m really proud of my horse.”

John Velazquez (Rombauer’s jockey): “He broke good and we saved all the ground. He tried his best, couldn’t get there. I had a good trip. I went behind the winners and the winning move was on the outside, a little too soon for me, so I waited a little longer and was a good third.”

Horse Racing Althiqa
Althiqa (Mike Smith) wins the G1 Just A Game from Summer Romance. Photo: Joe Labozzetta

Charlie Appleby (Althiqa’s trainer): “We’re obviously delighted with it and we knew we had two competitive fillies. It’s one of those days when we prepped well, I was confident they would run a big race and they justified it. They are two fillies who ran well over the winter in Dubai in Group 2s – one won the Balanchine and the other won the Cape Verdi – and they came out there to America and put it to the sword again.
“It’s a great effort by the team there and we might think about leaving them there for Saratoga. Althiqa hit the line strong enough and she wasn’t stopping. It was an opportunity to get a Group 1 and luckily we did.
“With Rebel’s Romance earlier this week and this, it’s just the ups and downs of it all. We’ve seen it here in the UK and you just have to roll with the punches. We’ll definitely consider the Diana for both of our fillies.”

Chad Brown (Domestic Spending’s trainer): “This horse has been a particular challenge. We had to geld him after his 2-year-old year, even with that breeding, because he wouldn’t train. So many people have touched this horse and really worked with and got his natural ability out of him. It’s really my team. They’ve done an outstanding job developing this horse. There was a point in time when he was a baby that I didn’t think we’d ever get him to the races.”

Fausto Gutierrez (Letruska’s trainer): “This is back-to-back Grade 1 wins. She showed her potential. This is a speed horse that can run long distances and today she confirmed what we saw in the Apple Blossom. She’s progressed with age and taking the blinkers off. She ran like a big horse.
“When she would run on the lead, she never saw the other horses. She has improved so much more. She has this class to her. She really likes to run. Now we need to focus on the Breeders’ Cup with the form that we have. She’s a very sound filly and I hope she continues like this.”

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